In my last posting I noted that the organizations I interact with are often concerned about how to effectively market and sell online learning—or at the very least, how to get learners to actually use the e-learning products they provide even in cases where the offerings are free. In most cases, a lack of marketing and sales success or general e-learning product adoption is symptomatic of a poorly-designed strategy. That’s hardly an original line of thinking: even the most inept of online learning consultants will tell an organization that everything comes down to strategy. The problem, I find, is that many organizations lack practical approaches for articulating strategy. Simply being able to ask one or two key questions—and then trying to come up with a clear answer—can be a great start.
It is with this in mind that I’d like to highlight a recent posting by Ryan Imel on copyblogger titled If Your Blog Disappeared, Who Would Miss It? While the posting is obviously focused on blogging, it is inspired by Imel’s work with churches. “In my time working with churches," Imel writes,
… mainly in the area of marketing/design, one phrase has always stood out to me as particularly inspiring. If your church disappeared from the neighborhood, and in essence didn’t exist in your community, who would notice? This thought, really this meditation, has proven very useful for helping to guide many churches in what is (hopefully) the right direction. But I believe this concept can apply to other areas as well; say, for instance, blogs.
Blogs, indeed—and also, for instance, online learning. The question of who would notice the disappearance of a particular product or service points to why and for whom it exists in the first place. These are fundamental strategic questions and ones that many organizations that have launched online learning initiatives cannot answer with any real clarity. Is your online learning offering simply a more convenient version of your classroom-based offerings? If so, who are the customers and potential customers that most value convenience and how highly do they value it? Market surveys have shown that convenience is a strong demand driver for online learning, but is it enough in your case? What else could make your product remarkable, make it something that your stakeholders would not want to give up, make it–as Imel suggests–irreplaceable?
If you can’t answers these sorts of questions and your find that adoption of your online learning offerings is not what you expected, guess what—there’s a connection. If you can’t answer these questions and your adoption rates are fine, then you are operating on luck, not strategy. Luck has a way of evaporating eventually.
A variation on the “What if…” question that organizations should also ask is “What if we never launched an online learning program in the first place?” Clearly this is something an organization that has not yet launched a program should ask, but I would also advise organizations that are well under way with a program to explore the question. Review the history of your program. Leaving adoption rates aside, has it contributed significantly to fulfillment of the organization’s mission? Is it claiming resources that might be better allocated to other existing initiatives or to new initiatives?
Viewing your online learning initiative through the lens of the 7 Measures of Success or in the context of a framework like the Balanced Scorecard can help greatly in arriving at clear answers to these questions. Whatever your approach, taking Imel’s advice and pausing to meditate on the “What if…” questions periodically can go a long way toward keeping your e-learning initiatives strategically focused and your adoption rates high.
Share Your Knowledge:
Are you running or participating in an online learning program that would elicit crying, gnashing of teeth, and general despondency (or, at the very least, upset people a bit) if it were to disappear? I am on a continuing search for the Purple Cows of nonprofit online learning. For more information, read the Purple Cow post, submit your example(s), and please help spread the word.